It’s hard to believe that it has already been one year since Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast. A year ago, I stood in a Katy parking lot watching as people brought in pets that had either been separated accidentally from their homes in the death-defying waters or had been purposely surrendered by owners who knew that the journey that lay ahead would be too hard to manage with a pet in tow.
I remember an elderly woman who was driven to us by her daughter-in-law with half a dozen cats in the truck. She told me about how these cats gave her life meaning and that they were the family members that were left when her husband died. She lost her home and her kids were moving her out of state to higher ground, but the cats could not come with her. She was devastated by the loss of her home to flood waters and the realization that her independent life was over but through all that, she was so incredibly grateful that we were there to help her, to ensure that her beloved cats found new homes and that they would not be killed in a shelter. It gave her a peace during this moment of tragedy and confirmed why we were needed in such an urgent way. There were so many instances like that – of both sadness and gratitude – that broke and filled my heart all in the same moments. Alongside the individual avalanche of personal tragedies, I also witnessed the remarkable human spirit of those who showed up, person after person, to help – to do whatever was needed, no matter how big or small. We all jumped in, not knowing where our feet would land, and we ended up moving a mountain there in that parking lot and another one back in Austin.
We have started referring to APA! life as pre-Harvey and post-Harvey because our world really did turn upside down at that critical moment when we decided to help not only with the disaster itself but by supporting Houston’s efforts to rebuild. Because of the outpouring of support for the displaced animals of Harvey, we have been able to save a thousand more lives so far in 2018 than we did in the first half of 2017. These are animals that continue to be affected by the ongoing reconstruction of human lives.
Over the past year, we have witnessed the miraculous reunion of people who gave up a pet during the storm and somehow the pets were still here, silently and unbeknownst to us, waiting for their owner to show up – and they finally did! We have grown in ways that we did not even dream of pre-Harvey and that growth, though sometimes very difficult, has allowed us to build more sustainability here in Austin and allowed us to be true partners to the agencies in hurricane-affected areas and beyond. These improvements point Texas, the worst state in the entire country for death rates at animals shelters, in a direction that will be hard to back away from: a state where every city values its pets and proves it by increasing the save rates in shelters everywhere. The change has been unprecedented and I truly believe that the hurricane propelled Texas down the path towards true humaneness and lifesaving. Out of this unbelievable crisis, the need for progressing the No Kill mission across the country has also been underscored. We’re launching a new nonprofit, American Pets Alive!, to help make this possible.
The hurricane also brought front and center that the concept that a family bond is more than just people. In fact, over 65% of pet owners care for their pets as a cherished member of the family. And new studies show a link between kids surviving their teenage years and having a family pet that gives them unconditional love. We at Austin Pets Alive! are charged with trying to help that key member of the family that can’t advocate for or help itself during moments of homelessness and hopelessness…but it’s even bigger than that. The work that has taken place in the last year is about the whole family – the new families made and the families reunited or held together by our aid.
We have stood by our promise to help animals and their people caught in the aftermath of the hurricane, those that lost their homes and their families. Every single person who volunteered, fostered, adopted, and donated made this possible. Both APA! and Texas are eternally grateful.
Thanks for your unwavering support,
Dr. Ellen Jefferson, DVM